Sustainable Snow & Ice Removal Practices

Posted: Aug 27, 2021

When it comes to snow & ice removal, not all ice melt materials are created equal. The industry-norm for decades has been chloride salts – sodium chloride (normal table salt), calcium chloride, magnesium chloride, potassium chloride, and others. However, average chloride concentrations in the environment have increased substantially in the past two decades due to the heavy use of road salts.

As the public has become more and more eco-friendly, the environmental costs of using traditional road salts have been a growing concern. This has led to increasing interest in more sustainable snow & ice removal practices. But what makes up sustainable practices, and what alternatives do we have to using traditional chloride-based road salts?

What Is Sustainable Snow & Ice Removal?

There are two general aspects of sustainable snow & ice removal:

  1. Reducing Waste When Using Ice Melt Products
  2. Using Products That Don’t Contain Chloride Salts to Lessen Environmental Impact

The key to practicing sustainable snow & ice removal is being able to combine these two aspects to maximize their effectiveness.

How Do We Reduce Waste When Using Ice Melt Products?

The best way to reduce waste when using ice melt products is to be proactive and prevent ice from forming in the first place. Anti-icing (applying ice melt before ice forms) is the most cost-effective & environmentally-safe practice for ice keeping ice at bay. Studies have shown that anti-icing requires only ΒΌ the material and 1/10 the overall cost of applying ice melt products after ice has formed. It’s also important to spread ice melt evenly, and never use it to try and melt piles of snow.

How Harmful Are Chloride De-Icers?

Chloride salts are very toxic to aquatic life, especially to freshwater ecosystems. High chloride levels have been shown to inhibit aquatic species’ growth & reproduction, and also depletes oxygen levels in the water. A 2014 study by the US Geological Survey found that out of all streams studied, 84% had rising chloride levels, and 29% had levels that exceeded federal safety guidelines.

Chloride salts not only affect aquatic life, but soil and plants as well. In commercial properties, the runoff from chloride salts can harm your plants. Plants can’t get the water and minerals they need due to the high salinity, which can quickly cause grass, plants, and trees to dry up and wilt.

Chloride salts are also harmful to wild animals and pets. They are toxic if swallowed and can be extremely harmful even in small amounts, while certain compounds like calcium chloride can seriously burn animals’ paws. Thankfully there are pet-friendly alternatives if your business or property is frequented by our furry friends!

What Are Some Alternatives to Chloride De-Icers?

Some of the most popular alternatives to chloride ice melt products are acetate-based, carbohydrate-based, and potassium formate. Chloride de-icers are considered the biggest polluters out of all types of ice melt because it isn’t biodegradable. While the other types are considered to be more eco-friendly, they’re not without their disadvantages, either:

  • Acetate-based products are biodegradable and generally result in less runoff. However, research shows that they also make it difficult for soil to retain water and oxygen. They can also lead to structural weakness in concrete over time depending on how and where they are applied.
  • Carbohydrate-based products, like beet sugars or corn carbohydrate, are a natural, non-salt alternative, but they don’t melt ice – they only lower the freezing point more than salt. This makes it most effective to use alongside other ice melt products, rather than on its own.
  • Potassium formate is a potassium salt that breaks down the hydrogen bond of freezing water. It is biodegradable and non-toxic to plants and animals.

The Interest in Sustainable Snow & Ice Removal is Growing

As many people & businesses are striving to be more environmentally friendly, there has been an up-tick in interest for more sustainable snow & ice removal practices. There seems to be particular interest from large-scale and multi-site property managers, as well as large in-house operations such as municipalities & school campuses. This is both from a cost-effectiveness standpoint, as well as meeting the public’s changing attitudes towards sustainable practices and materials. As the public has shifted to a more eco-friendly mindset, many contractors have also taken the initiative to switch to ice-melt products that don’t contain chloride salts.

Looking for Sustainable Commercial Snow & Ice Removal Services?

Keeping your property clear of snow & ice doesn’t have to take a toll on the environment. At Snow Management Services, our team of winter planning & risk management experts know how to care for both your property and the land it’s a part of. Whether it’s using liquid ice melt or non-chloride products for snow removal & de-icing, sidewalk management, or off-site snow hauling, SMS will make sure your property is prepared no matter how bad the winter gets. To see what SMS can do for your Denver-area commercial property or business, give us a call today at (303) 750-8867 or get in touch with us online to get started.